Bridging the gap between science and commercial
By: Sascha Nussbaum, PhD | September 01, 2016
My role as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL).
Equipped with academic credentials and experience, Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are the industry’s scientific resource to the external world. MSLs help ensure the proper utilization of medicines and develop peer-to-peer relationships with key influencers, physicians and academicians in therapeutic areas of interest. They serve as a bridge between biopharma and the medical community; their role continuing to be strengthened as the time healthcare professionals (HCPs) spend with sales representatives steadily declines.
In my own experience as an MSL, I have seen many changes and believe there are still more to come. However, it is clear that MSLs are very much about the future of the biopharma industry. With ever more personalized and specialist medicines coming to market, MSLs are developing working relationships with physicians to help disseminate complex data, but also gather competitive intelligence that helps shape future strategies and product launches.
The deployment of MSLs is critical to business, especially as the evolution of HCPs’ need for support and information continues. Physicians want medical information that is relevant and useful to the care they provide to patients. As compliance continues to rule over communications between industry and the external world, MSLs can support the sharing of unbiased medical and scientific information. The role as scientific advisor means that they do not work within the same framework as sales reps – the compliance rules MSLs follow allow them to provide off-label information in a reactive manner; they get relatively better access with healthcare professionals; and, MSL performance is not measured by prescription levels achieved.
MSLs understand complex medical information; in addition, our value comes from being able to transform very technical data into digestible language within a very short period of time, without losing the impact of the data. MSLs are key in selecting the expert physicians they wish to develop relationships with, but to provide value they must stay up-to-date with relevant literature, attending international and national medical/clinical conferences, and being the credible counterpart of the company to the medical community.
Although the role is predominantly about managing complex evidence-based resources, a large part of the MSL function is about being an effective and versatile communicator. The relationships they build with physicians are crucial in understanding how they treat their patients, how medicines fit into the treatment algorithm, whether HCPs prefer competitor brands, and how closely they follow local guidelines. Ultimately, MSLs help bridge the gap between science (e.g. R&D and clinical trials) and commercial (e.g. customers, marketing and market access). For instance, for market access, they might help develop value dossiers for pricing and reimbursement negotiations to ensure that data are appropriately represented and interpreted.
Given the highly science-driven medical landscape today, it is difficult to imagine that the role of the MSL would become obsolete any time soon, especially as the role has medical, commercial and legal implications. As biopharma become increasingly restrictive in giving responsibilities to sales teams, it is conceivable to see a greater reduction in the size of sales force teams and an increase in MSL teams.
The MSL role is probably not for everybody. It can sometimes be riddled with ambiguity, especially when working for emerging biopharma with tight budgets and pipelines centered around one or a small number of drugs. However, there are those who thrive in this work environment, and they are usually those individuals who find genuine excitement in change, flexibility, and constant learning. This can be particularly true for MSLs that work as part of an outsourced team; we encounter a host of products, client companies and teams from different parts of the world. For me, the excitement inherent in the role is magnified by the variety of the work routine. Every day is different.
There are substantial recruitment opportunities for MSLs – whether outsourced or internal. The role of an MSL presents science professionals with the chance to reevaluate how they want to advance their careers. Prior to joining the industry, my career path was oriented towards basic lab research in an academic setting, but becoming an MSL enabled me to be closer to the actual application of research and medicines.
Companies continue to grapple with shifting away from the traditional business model where the role of the sales rep was essential. In the current healthcare landscape, it is clear that to achieve a balance between business benefits and patient/physician needs, the MSL has a pivotal part to play.